Paddy Ryan and Alex Newsome’s NSW Country Eagles had their wings clipped by Queensland Country on Saturday.
After winning two on the trot, the Eagles were left to rue a slow start to both halves as they lost an agonisingly close match 34-31 to the ladder leaders.
The game started at a frenetic pace, with no break in play for the first four minutes. Pat McCutcheon nearly registered first points for the Eagles off a charged down Hamish Stewart kick. Despite the early pressure, QLD Country looked threatening, and Patrick James was the first to cross for the afternoon, crashing over from close range after a nice ball from halfback James Tuttle in the seventh minute.
It was Queensland Country who looked more fluent in attack, a few handling errors hurting the Eagles, especially at set piece time. Brandon Paenga-Amosa and Tom Staniforth were a constant pest over the ball at the breakdown, but QLD were up to the test, and thwarted a number of attacking raids, with effective exits from Stewart relieving pressure on a number of occasions.
As they’ve done so well this season, QLD turned defence into attack in the 23rd minute, when Stewart found a rampaging Izaia Perese, whose inside ball to Eto Nabuli eventually saw Angus Scott-Young rumble over from close range.
When Tuttle steered his kick through, it was a 12 point margin, and NSW Country’s inability to turn territory into points looked like it could be the men in orange’s achilles heel for the afternoon.
Things got worse for Coleman’s side with five minutes to go in the half, when Filipo Daugunu played on quickly, stepped in and away from 15m out to score in the corner. Tuttle was still struggling to place kick in the stiff breeze, but by this stage, Brad Thorn’s side was showing why they were top of the table front runners with their suffocating defence and devastating ability on the counter.
At oranges, it remained a 17 point advantage to the home side, with Darren Coleman’s men needing to find more fluency with ball in hand to make a fist of the fixture.
The second half started in much the same fashion as the first. The Eagles on the attack before an untimely turnover from QLD saw them go end to end, Nabuli scoring in the corner after some breathtaking lead up work. Tuttle’s kick was a stunner, and all of a sudden it was a 24 point lead.
The crowd barely had time to blink before QLD were in again, this time Nabuli went from try-scorer to try-assister; his last pass inside to Perese coming after a half break from 30m out. The Eagles looked shell-shocked, a stark contrast to the laid back Brad Thorn watching wisely on from the sidelines.
Finally, the Eagles found some joy and were next to score through Andrew Kellaway after an inch-perfect cross kick from fly half Tayler Adams. The kick was away, and with 20 minutes to play, QLD led 31-5.
Both sides showed some attacking enterprise, with both benches basically empty in the pursuit of fresh legs and keen injections into the game.
The Eagles scored again in the 66th minute, after a perfectly executed rolling maul from 5m out saw replacement hooker Connal Mcinerny dive over from close. Adams kicked his first of the day, reducing the margin to 19 points with 15 minutes to play.
The Eagles had their tails up, but James Tuttle settled things in the 70th minute with a penalty goal to push the lead to 22. QLD thought that was the game, until a quick kick off from Adams saw the Eagles go 50m to send Maclean Jones over in the corner immediately. Adams couldn’t convert, however, and with 8 minutes to play, QLD had a 17 point buffer.
Jake Gordon made 30m off a half break soon after, and QLD were penalised for a high tackle as they scrambled back. Adams’ kick to the line resulted in a 5m lineout, the Eagles looked to roll in again, but Harry Johnson-Holmes unfortunately spilt his lollies on the line. The resulting scrum was a belter, and the Eagles won a tighthead. The ball went wide and Adams again, in a case of serious deja vu, kicked to the corner where Kellaway scored his second. His conversion was a stunner, and it was a 10 point game with six minutes to play.
Unfortunately, the Eagles had too much to do, and despite a try after the siren to Jake Gordon from the base of the scrum, the Eagles couldn’t storm home to seal an unlikely victory.
The Eagles’ next assignment is against the Perth Spirit at Scully Park next Saturday.